Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang Challenges Convention
Taiwan has achieved many firsts in recent years — the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, the first to successfully contain the coronavirus pandemic, and the first to have an openly transgender cabinet member to lead the island’s digital and social innovation as well as fighting the coronavirus.
Enter Audrey Tang, a child prodigy-turned civic hacker who was headhunted by President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration in 2016 to become the island’s first minister without a portfolio at the age of 35. The non-binary Tang (who prefers the pronoun “they” instead of “he” or “she”) has since become the island’s Digital Minister.
Tang will be speaking at the inaugural edition of Taiwan Creative Content Fest (TCCF) presented by Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA), an independent agency set up by the Ministry of Culture and the cabinet (Executive Yuan) to actively promote the island’s cultural and creative content globally.
Tang will be joining Tea Uglow, creative director of Google’s Creative Lab in Sydney and TAICCA’s president Hu Ching-fang, in TCCF’s opening panel “Post-Pandemic Era: Human Touch – A Closer Future,” which explores the evolution of technology and culture in the post-pandemic era.
Born in 1981, Tang is known as a child prodigy reportedly with an IQ of 180. They were already well-versed in classical literature at a young age and began learning advanced mathematics and programming before the age of 10. They dropped out of school in their teenage years and started their own company at the age of 15. They went on to become a software programmer, a “civic hacker.”
Rather than being persecuted, Tang’s involvement in the political movement caught the eye of the government and they were invited to build a media literacy curriculum for schools in Taiwan. They became the Digital Minister before the implementation of the curriculum in late 2017.
This year, Tang “hacked” the coronavirus by leading the launch of a series of “mask maps,” with the support from the hackers’ community, to show the real-time stock updates of masks at different vendors, so that the public did not have to waste time for long queues while minimizing the gathering of large crowds. More than 10 million people have used the app, the BBC reported.
Tang told the media that the success of the app was down to trust between the government, the hackers and the wider Taiwan public. Together they allowed the government to respond swiftly and successfully contain the virus. Digital initiatives to combat disinformation spearheaded by Tang also contributed greatly to Taiwan’s battle against the pandemic.
Moving forward, the digital minister will continue to champion digital democracy and an open government. “The government should trust the citizens with open data, not to ask citizens to trust the government blindly,” they said recently in an interview with the Stimson Center.